As an adult reader, I must admit to not expecting great things, as the story opens with a modern American Jewish family celebrating Seder. "Passover.. is about remembering," Mama tells her bored, slightly spoilt daughter Hannah - the horrific WW2 losss of the older generation wash over the girl, who has heard it all before.
Then, in a deft bit of time travel, Hannah finds herself living in a Polish shtetl in 1942 with an unknown family. It's the eve of a wedding and everyone is happy, but the Nazis are close at hand... As she experiences the horrors of life in a concentration camp, she understands the desperate yearning to survive:
"Everyone knew that as long as others were processed, THEY would not be. A simple bit of mathematics, like subtraction, where one taken away from the top line becomes one added on to the bottom. The Devil's arithmetic."
With a touching ending, I thought this would be an ideal book for around the 11 - 12 age-group (but this adult liked it too!)
on 23 August 2001
Amazing! I finished reading this book half an hour ago and I'm still shaking. It is moving, skillfully written, and one of the most powerful pieces I have read in a long while.
The hollocust is a difficult subject for any book to cover, let alone one written for children. This novel may well be too distrubing for many of its target audience but for those who have the stomach for it, I heartedly recommend this book.
on 20 September 1999
This book was excellent. It grasped me from the beginning and I couldn't stop reading, I loved it. Hannah hates Passover, and when she gives all her wine, which she hates, into the glass for Elijah, her grandfather lets her (as a reward for her selflessness) open the door for Elijah. Only when she does, instead of other apartment doors there is a kitchen that is obviouly way out of date.... Hannah is caught in the Polish Jewish communtity just before they are taken off to concentration camps. And when the Nazis arrive, only Hannah knows their true business....
Compelling, great story. After showing it to my English teacher we are now reading it in class. Comes highly recommended!
on 25 May 1999
The devils arithmetic by Jane Yolen starts out when 12 year old Hannah has to go to a Passover Seder with her grandparents. She hates that sort of thing and dreads it each year. She once had to read Hebrew and now it is her brother's turn to do the same. Her relatives will always tell the same stories over and over again. But this Seder is different. When Hannah opens the front door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she is transported back in time. She is convinced that it is just a dream untill she finds out that she is really transported to a Polish village in 1942. She becomes two people at once. She takes the place of a girl named Chaya who used to live in a city called Lublin. Her parents had just died and she just came to live with her ______. She knows the language that the real Chaya speaks and also some of the things that Chaya previously new. But she still has an even stronger remembrance of her previous life in the present time. However, over time, she begens to forget the things from the present and remember more things from Chaya's past.
on 24 December 1997
I read this book in school in 6th grade. I decided to read a couple of chapters the first day I got it, and ended up reading the entire book in one evening! That's how good it was. In the beginning, Hannah hated having to spend holidays with her family. She didn't understand why she had to remember what happened a long time ago. Later, she realizes that history can never be forgotten. Jane Yolen gives a very acurate, and detailed description about life in the concentration camps. The surprise at the end made me burst into tears. This book was especially meaningful for me because some of my relatives were in the Holocaust. I would recomend this book to anyone who's intrested in learning about life in concentration camps.
on 28 July 1999
My mother brought this book back from the States initially for my nine year old daughter. She read it on the plane coming home, and both myself and my eleven year old son have also read it. It has now gone on loan to family and friends. I thought that it was an excellent book, which gave just enough detail for young readers, and brought tears to everyone's eyes at the end. I am now purchasing it as a present.
THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC by Jane Yolen is required reading at my school, as it is in many middle/junior high schools across the country. I've been meaning to read it for several years but never did, until my son read it this year as an eighth grader. He insisted I read it. How could I resist that?
Hannah is celebrating Passover Seder with her family. It's the same thing every year. Grandpa will get all worked up over old photos on TV, shaking his fist, screaming about the numbers on his arm, and Aunt Eva will calm him down as she always does, laying a hand on his arm, leading the same old Jewish prayers as Hannah mumbles along. But this year will be different. Hannah's brother, Aaron, will get to hide the afikoman, Hannah will get to taste real wine, and then she'll get to open the door to symbolically welcome in the prophet Elijah.
But when she opened that door, she had no idea just how different this year's celebration would be.
Instead of seeing the hallway in front of her as she expected, she sees a man coming her way, crossing a field. Confused, she turns back to her family and instead sees a strange woman, dressed even more strangely, kneading dough on a wooden table. Hannah's confusion grows as she hears herself referred to as Chaya, and discovers that these two people believe themselves to be her Aunt Gitl and Uncle Shmuel. More unbelievably, they talk about her parents' deaths, and that she herself had nearly died, sick for weeks.
Feeling like she's in a dream she can't wake up from, she finds herself pulled into wedding festivities, which includes walking to a nearby village for the celebration. There, her dream turns into a nightmare. Hannah is slowly disappearing as Chaya is loaded onto trucks with the other villagers. Then, later, they are prodded like cattle aboard boxed railroad cars with no ventilation, and they travel, standing, for four days and nights without food or bathrooms. What follows is days, weeks, maybe months, in a Jewish concentration camp.
Jane Yolen's telling of the Holocaust is chilling. She gathered information from survivors, those heroes who remember so that the atrocities of the past will never happen again. Ms. Yolen writes in her final pages to the reader, "That heroism - to resist being dehumanized, to simply outlive one's tormentors, to practice the quiet, everyday caring for one's equally tormented neighbors. To witness. To remember. These were the only victories of the camps."
This book is incredibly powerful. The way Ms. Yolen weaves the past and present together forces the reader to make personal connections. She makes the reader think and ask questions. How could society have allowed such a thing to happen? And, more importantly, how can we assure that it will never happen again? I truly hope THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC will remain required reading in schools. Each new generation must bear the weight of those lost souls upon their heart. They must believe that such devastating events can, and did, happen. Only in believing and remembering can we move forward to a better society.
Thank you, Ms. Yolen, for this riveting and thought-provoking book.
Reviewed by: Cana Rensberger
on 24 August 1998
Jane Yolen has produced a terrifying and entirely engrossing book, dealing with very emotive and important issues in her usual seamless style. The facts of the Holocaust are so vast and overwhelming as to escape our ability to comprehend - we can understand the death of one friend and be devastated by it, but the death of thousands is nearly too huge to understand, and the death of millions is beyond us entirely. Yolen, by letting us see the events through the eyes of one narrator, Hannah/Chaya, has narrowed the focus to one single pair of eyes and allowed us to truly see. The results are devastating. Hannah, who starts out as a rather annoying teenager (how does Yolen do this? I know that kid!) who couldn't care less about the seder, learns what it is to love, to suffer, and to truly remember. I know this is billed as a Young Adult novel, but I'm 40 and I was entirely involved as I was reading, and wept bitterly at the end. It seems to me that Jane Yolen has done a great service to all those involved, and to those now alive who need to know how they lived, how they died - and how some survived through the boundless generosity of spirit shown by their fellow humans. This is a fictional work about a very real, very awful part of human history, and a fitting testament to those who retained their humanity in the midst of soul-wrenching horror. It is a wonderful book, poignant, moving, with enough depth to fully engage anyone.
Read this book.
on 23 October 1998
The book "The Devil's Arithmetic" is a very good book. It is about a young girl and her friends growing up during the Holocaust. She is taken to a concentration camp and exsperences the horrors of the life that many people had to live. This whole experence is almost like a dream, but it seems very real. Her grandfather had gone to a camp before and made it out alive. She becomes part of the Holocaust when she opens the door for Elijah, a jewish tradition. It seems vey confusing, but when you read it, it all makes sense. In the beggining, the book seems boring because it tells you lots of information that seems pointless. In the end, you will be glad that you read it and didn't stop because all of that information ties into the ending. I would recommend this book to all middle school and highschool students. I would not recommend this book to younger kids because it talks about the Holocaust. This book is espically good for people who are already interested in the Holocaust or people who are learning about it. I think that the best thing about this book is that it is educational and enjoyable. It tells about the Holocaust through fictional characters in the story that you almost develop a relationship with. The author makes you feel like one of the characters. Overall I think this is a very good book for almost all ages.
on 25 December 1998
This compelling novel about life in a Nazi concentration camp is starkly authentic, told from the point of view of a modern Jewish teenager--mysteriously transported back in time and location--who is struggling to retain her American identity, as well as her life. How is it that she can instantly speak and understand Yiddish? Why do these kindly villagers mistake her for someone else? Will she survive the horrors of the death camp with its gas ovens and "Jew smoke?" Can she prove a person of value and integrity, retaining her human dignity even in the face of the Nazi dehumanization process? "If she does survive, Hannah knows she will never again have to ask why we must remember--for she herself will never foget."
This temporal slippage reminds me of one of my favorites, CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, and the spooky VICTORIAN CHAISE LONGUE, in which the heroines are transported into the past and mistaken for someone else. And if Hannah should succeed in returning to the future, will her hair be shorn and her arm tattooed? A must read for all thinking adults and feeling teens. Finally proper literary homage to those brave and nameless young people who lost their lives as victims of man's racial prejudice and hate. The legacy of shame must be published abroad, so that it will not be repeated.